Grading my 2011 green-tech coverage

Grading my 2011 green-tech coverage

Summary: I have pledged to get much better about follow-up coverage over the past few months, so up for consideration today is my piece from late December 2010, "11 green-tech stories I want to write in 2011.

TOPICS: Emerging Tech

The Year in Review, the Year Ahead

I have pledged to get much better about follow-up coverage over the past few months, so up for consideration today is my piece from late December 2010, "11 green-tech stories I want to write in 2011."

When I posted that story, many readers asked for far more details about the return on investment for green technologies, which I think is one reason why virtually anything that I posted throughout the year about lighting technology or LEDs far outstripped the readership for more traditional cleantech coverage of developments surrounding solar technology. After all, in our society of instant gratification, the 20-year packback on things like solar panels are sometimes a hard sell.

In any event, here is my self-grading system for each of themes that I mentioned last year. I'm giving myself a strict Pass or Fail mark on my coverage for each of the areas I scouted.

#1: Makers of renewable energy technology and energy storage technology team up on more commercial-scale projects. PASS. There were plenty of great examples of commercial projects during 2011, including NTT's decision to use Bloom Energy fuel cells to power its data center. Another player to watch is UTC Power, which has also scored a number of high profile projects including installations with Whole Foods Markets. Check out my coverage of prime fuel cells at sister site SmartPlanet.

#2: Energy-efficient lighting technology booms as businesses invest. PASS. As I mentioned early, posts about energy efficiency and lighting technologies, especially LED developments, routinely draw more traffic than any other topic on this blog with the possible exception of electric vehicles. There are three big reasons for this, which I outlined in my post yesterday, "3 reasons politics won't kill the lighting efficiency movement."

#3: Solar adoption continues to outpace expectations. FAIL. Maybe I got distracted by the Solyndra debacle that started in August, but I definitely could have done a better job at solar coverage during the year. Although I reported on a number of commercial projects, such as the Facebook solar cogeneration project at its headquarters, I definitely should be picking up the mantle more frequently with respect to progress on the residential front. I'm most proud of my piece from September, "Why the U.S. shouldn't give up on solar technology," which summarizes how I feel about the broad prospects for this particular renewable energy source. I won't even pretend to be objective.

#4: Electric cars finally find a following with "average" Americans. FAIL. As I wrote earlier this week in my year-end piece about electric vehicles, the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet helped push the industry out of neutral and into first gear. But consumers won't have a broad range of electric vehicle choices until 2012, and none of them is particularly cost-friendly to the "average" American who isn't prepared to spend more than $30,000 on a car. That's why pretty much every piece I write about electric motorcycles ("Evolve charges up three electric motorcycles for fall launch," or "This electric motorcycle may also be safer") tended to drive more readership than my other green-tech coverage.

#5: More businesses embrace formal policies for handling electronic waste. FAIL. With the exception several stories about what the high-tech industry is doing (or saying it is doing) with respect to advancing the collection of electronic waste, I didn't cover this issue nearly enough during 2011. The good news is that I have noticed quite a few recycling businesses have gone ahead with certifications this year, particular those offered under the Basel Area Network's e-Stewards program.

#6: Mega-Enterprise XYZ cites energy efficiency as key factor in cloud sourcing decision. FAIL. But not so much because research isn't being conducted about cloud computing's green impact but for another big reasons: there have been few wholesale defections by corporations into the cloud model (yet). My piece from July ("7 ways cloud computing could be greener") provides some tips from Forrester Research on what needs to happen to make this a more compelling value proposition.

#7: Waste not, want not: More companies explore ways to use "waste" energy to good advantage. FAIL. This hasn't been a big topic this year, unfortunately, although Microsoft's research into how the tech industry might use excess server heat to warm up homes or offices ("Data center as furnace? MIcrosoft researchers explore idea") is a great philosophical framework for this topic.

#8: Energy management applications gain ground in homes, businesses. PASS. Plenty of great examples of deployments this year. Perhaps the biggest testimony of progress in this category, however, is the consolidation that has started taking place. The latest "list" of leaders in energy management from independent research firm Verdantix ("15 energy management vendors worth your notice") boasts a number of familiar names from the enterprise software world.

#9: Green building revolution continues. PASS. The future of green building will hinge on technologies such as building integrated solar as well as on efforts to manage the total footprint of a building from an environmental perspective, something that companies like Noveda are trying to do. Of course, success has a lot to do with influencing occupant behavior.

#10: Serious progress made on smart grid security. FAIL. I HAVE been watching developments on this front, but most of those developments suggest this is still an area that needs a lot more attention. This is especially true of the industrial controls systems that are being linked to smart grid information technology solutions ("Utilities caught flat-footed in smart-grid security"). The supervisory control and data acquisition systems in use at many utilities, fondly referred to as SCADA devices, weren't exactly built with the Internet in mind.

#11: Forget the outlet, power your mobile through wireless, solar and kinetic means. PASS. This was the focus of many of my green gadget stories throughout 2011. I WILL SAY, however, that doesn't mean I think the technology is ready for prime time. As much as I love the solar-charged battery case I have for my iPhone, as an example, it takes a ridiculously long time to recharge.

By my count, my record was about 50-50, which I guess you could consider average. But I do feel compelled to point out that many of the coverage areas where I've assessed myself a "Fail" grade are ones that I HAVE been following, it is just that technology has failed to keep pace with my hopes and expectations for progress.

Anyway, forget 2011, what would you like to see me cover more in 2012? Start a comment thread, or contact me via email.

Topic: Emerging Tech

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  • RE: Grading my 2011 green-tech coverage

    #4: Electric cars. Here's a serious question for you or your audience. I see a lot of older Prius used cars hitting the market. What is the condition of the batteries in these cars? Are the new owners facing a major maintenance expense? I doubt most buyers of older used cars are in a position to immediately spend another $1,000 to $15,000 on replacements.
    • Prius battery life

      @Bill4 I'm not sure who representative this is of anything, but my wife's 2003 Prius is still going strong on the original battery. So it looks like they last for quite a while.
    • Few have failed

      @Bill4 - No one knows what the average lifespan of the Prius traction battery will be, since few have failed. Toyota tested them for 180,000 miles, and in the real world some have gone well over 200,000 miles with no problems. They're expected to last the life of the vehicle.
      • RE: Grading my 2011 green-tech coverage

        @Greenknight_z: The question is more about degradation than it is about failure. After 10 years it might work but only be able to reach 50-60% of the maximum capacity.
  • RE: Grading my 2011 green-tech coverage

    I'd like to see more coverage of stuff that's available for apartment-dwellers. There's not only the space (or lack-of-it) factor, there's also the cost of investing in these technologies and the length of time needed to get any kind of ROI.

    Renters are much more limited in available renewable resources. I don't get enough sun to do anything solar (which does keep my cooling costs down in the summer) and I really can't mount anything on any windows to catch the wind. (Landlords usually frown on tenants making major structural alterations to the dwellings.) So far, the only eco-friendly devices I've been able to find for apartment-dwellers are different hand-cranked washing machines that use less water, less detergent, and no electricity; however, they all seem to cost between $75 and $150. For me (single guy, not huge loads), that means it would be between 12 and 18 months before I'd get my investment back; plus, there's the time and space needed to air-dry the clothes. Air-drying might bring the pay-back time down to around 6 months; still, is this the only green tech available at a reasonable cost for those who don't have solar farms or wind-driven generators on their roofs?
  • RE: Grading my 2011 green-tech coverage

    Heather Clancy,

    You should consider doing a write up on our company SolarUniverse. We specialize in doing everything for the home owner. Including calculating power usage requirements, selecting/designing systems, filing permits paperwork, grants and rebates. We help home owners eliminate their electric bill and go solar for no upfront costs. Free solar power for no upfront costs.

    Thoughts, Heather ....?